Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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George French Angas and the Creation of Colonial Knowledge in New Zealand

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posted on 2021-11-14, 02:37 authored by Falconer-Gray, Catherine

In 1844, George French Angas, the English traveller, artist, natural historian and ethnographer spent four months travelling in New Zealand. He sought out and met many of the most influential Maori leaders of the time, sketching and recording his observations as he went. His stated intention was to provide a ‘more correct idea’ of New Zealand and the New Zealanders. In Australia and then Britain he held exhibitions of his work and in 1847 he published two works based on this time in New Zealand: a large volume of full-colour lithographs, The New Zealanders Illustrated and a travel narrative based on his journal, Savage Life and Scenes in Australia and New Zealand. These exhibitions and publications comprised the nineteenth century’s largest collection of works about Maori and Maori culture. This thesis is a study of the ‘more correct idea’ that Angas sought to provide: his creation of colonial knowledge about Maori. Angas is most commonly described in New Zealand as being an unremarkable artist but as providing a window onto New Zealand in the 1840s. This thesis opens the window wider by looking at Angas’s works as a record of a cultural encounter and the formation of a colonial identity. The works were shaped by numerous ideological and intellectual currents from Britain and the empire, including humanitarianism and the aesthetic of the picturesque. Ideas about gender and the body form a central part of the colonial knowledge created in Angas’s work. Particularly notable is what this thesis terms ‘sartorial colonisation’ – a process of colonisation through discourse and expectations around clothes. Angas also travelled and worked in a dynamic middle ground in New Zealand and Maori played a vital role in the creation of his works. Angas represented Maori in a sympathetic light in many ways. Ultimately however, he believed in the superiority of the British culture, to the detriment of creating colonial knowledge that placed Maori as equal partners in the recently signed Treaty of Waitangi. This thesis also examines the ways in which Angas’s body of work has been engaged with by the New Zealand public through to the present. As a study of the products of a British traveller who spent time in other parts of the empire as well as in New Zealand, this thesis contributes to histories of New Zealand, and British imperial and transcolonial history.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Macdonald, Charlotte